Well heck, after trolling around this site for a few years, I figured why not plump the cash down for a membership - and start off with a TR
Background: Near the end of our first year of medical school, I was out to lunch with a few classmates (at an Asian buffet, no less). One of them was going back to Vietnam for the summer, which intrigued us greatly. He'd grown up there, living there until he was 12 or so (unlike most Vietnamese-Americans my age). A side note: many of you might not know, but OKC
has a significant Vietnamese community - dating back to the 70s when many of them had just arrived to the US. A few churches here sponsored the first families, and now we've got a nice little community here. They've even established an "Asian District" and "Little Saigon" - kind of cool. Finally I suggested that it was our last real summer ever, so why not make the trip ourselves! The other Vietnamese friends I was with had never been back themselves and seemed quite receptive to the idea. And I looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip. Things worked themselves out and a month later, we had purchased our tickets. My friend who was going for the whole summer (and our "host") would be flying UA
on their direct service, but the agent he used suggested AA
/JL for us, connecting through NRT
. One guy would be returning home to LA
for the summer, so he would be flying out of LAX
while the other two of us would leave from here. Let me say that while I've always been an aviation enthusiast of sorts, I was only an "occasional" A.net surfer back then; namely I had no intention of joining this site, much less doing a TR
almost two years later! Suffice it to say that in hindsight I would have taken many more (and better) pictures. Ah well, what's done is done. But I looked forward to this trip for too many reasons to count - first time to SE
Asia, first time on a 777 and 767, first time flying Transpacific, first time flying JL
...Really, it couldn't come fast enough. However, the one blemish was that before purchasing the ticket, I didn't do my homework and realized too late that AA
flights sold under VN
codes are not eligible for AAdvantage miles. I was seriously bummed about this, as the miles on this trip would have been a nice bonus to my account, especially for someone who doesn't fly international too often. I would have definitely forked over an extra $100-200 and earned some miles. But oh well, lesson learned.
Date: July 24, 2006
After a weekend of frantically packing and running around to several banks looking for some crisp cash, the morning of departure finally came - I got my things together and drove to my friend's house with who I'd be flying to NRT
with. Her mom dropped us off at the airport around 9 AM
- plenty of time at OKC
. I wish I had some pics of the terminal, but OKC
has improved by leaps and bounds from a decade ago. The renovations are mostly complete, and OKC
has to have one of the nicest terminals for an airport our size.
Among her checked luggage was 2 boxes of goods she was taking for distant relatives she'd never met. More on that later. But anyway, we checked in without difficulty, bags tagged all the way to SGN
. Everything looked good until we passed through security, checked the departure/arrival boards, and noticed that the inbound from DFW
was due to arrive at 1026! That wasnt good, not with our layover being short enough as it was. In fact, I had thought of going early and trying to standby on the 9AM to DFW
, but with my friend being a rather inexperienced flyer, I figured why not just stay with our ticketed itinerary. As it is, the aircraft showed up right at 1030 or so, Boarding commenced soonafter, and we departed the gate around 1100. Here's the one shot I was able to get out of OKC
Right away I knew it would be a close call. Flight proceeded smoothly and we touched down at DFW
around 1145, and by then was I sweating bullets. Fortunately we wouldn't have the problem getting stuck at the back of a larger plane! We pulled up to our gate in Terminal D (which I thought was unusual for an RJ
). We quickly checked the monitors for the departure gate, realized OH
$HIT, it was on the clear other side of Concourse D, and made a mad dash to the Skylink. Got off, ran to the gate, where thankfully the agents were waiting and called out our names as we were literally running to the gate. "We're glad you made it!," one of them remarked. Yeah tell me about it! So we board quickly, no time for photos of course, lol. Kind of a weird feeling, being the stragglers on a nearly full widebody, trying to walk through J class while the attendants have already begun their pre-flight service. And I kid you not, hardly 2 minutes passed from the time we stowed our carry-ons and sat in our seats until the beast pushed back. Unbelievable.
STD/ATD: 1205 (ontime)
/ATA: 1630 (ontime) + 1 day
Equip: 777-222ER (N758AN)
Duration: 12 hours 36 minutes
Load: Approx 80-85% in Y
Of course, once we recovered from realizing how close we were to missing our flight - and probably a whole day of our trip - my friend's thoughts turned to the boxes she'd checked. Together, we simultaneously cringed and laughed sarcastically about what we might encounter 20 hours later in SGN
- distant family she's never met who had come from who-knows-where Vietnam, and her arriving empty-handed. She asked one of the attendants in the back shortly after take-off if there was any way she could find out, and the FA
did tell us that a few bags were loaded right before we left the gate, so that gave us some hope.
Anyway back to the flight - this was my first time on a 777 - and I don't need to say how stunned I was. What a beautiful bird, inside and out. Nice and spacious, airy yet cozy at the same time. AA
might fall short on many other things, but I thought their Y class was plenty comfortable. From the minute we pushed back I could sense the sophistication of this machine - so smooth, quiet, and impressive for a bird this size. A different feeling than I'd gotten from the A330, DC-10, or 747. Taxi was short, we got on the runway, came to a full stop, and then I heard that roar, a roar that I had never heard before. Just Incredible. Takeoff was smooth and we settled in for the flight. I played a bit with AA
's IFE - as you guys know, their PTVs are not yet AVOD in Y, something I found pretty shocking. I'd gone to India on NW
a few years ago and even their A330s were AVOD. As much crap as NW
takes (much of it deservedly so), they quickly earned several points with me over this. Browsing through the AAtractions, I found a decent mix of TV
Shows and Movies (American and Japanese). Now if only I could set my in-flight alarm for 108 minutes or 121 minutes or whatever, I might be able to catch something from start-to-finish!
IIRC, the usual senior crew began their service approx 45 min into the flight, coming through with beverages, and then the "International Flagship Lunch." As I've warned, I had no idea I'd be doing a TR
on this, so no pics of the meals, sorry
but I do remember that it was decidedly the WORST airline meal I had EVER had. Hands down. It was chicken-and-rice dish (I think? It sure didn't taste like anything). Good thing it came with an edible salad and decent dessert that I forgot what it was, otherwise I would have been even more disappointed (and hungry!). A crappy meal, however, couldn't deter me from comfortably settling into the flight with only 10 or so hours to go. I killed the next few hours by doing some reading and watching what I could on the PTV - IIRC no trivia or games were available either! (But my memory's fuzzy on this so do remind me if they are). I did manage to catch an episode or two of "Eye on American" though. Here are some shots of the cabin:
I was very enthralled by the Japanese signage
About 4-5 hours later, the crew came through with a small snack service; a beef sandwich and grapes. I don't eat beef (for religious reasons) so I politely asked the Japanese FA
if there was any alternative snack, to which she quickly snapped "no!", and moved on; no mention of leftover rolls or anything. I wasn't too happy about this, but by this point I was sure as hell tired of sitting, so I ventured to the aft galley area to stretch my legs and walk around a bit. Found a couple of guys there, one headed to SGN
on our flight, and another headed to ICN
. Had an interesting conversation for a bit about the changes taking place in Vietnam, what we should expect, etc. He warned me that "Vietnam is very poor and dirty!" I assured him that I had been to India several times, so nothing could shock me too much
On the way back to my seat, I grabbed some leftover packaged rolls that have been discussed so thoroughly on a.net - if they harbored any vicious pathogens, they spared me that day. And so I was content for a few more hours.
About 8 hours in, we pass the date line - something I HAD to catch on camera (again, profuse apologies for the crappy pictures):
A few hours later, the crew comes through with the final meal service, with the choice of a Beef dish (I think it was Japanese), or a cheese pizza. The choice was easy for me, and my friend let me have half of her pizza, so I was definitely a bit more satisfied towards the end of the flight. Somehow, 10 or 11 hours or so had passed, and I wasn't feeling too badly. Longest flights I'd been on to this point were LHR
, so I wasn't sure how I'd hold up on this long of a flight but it was quite tolerable.
I snapped a few more shots as we edged closer to Japan, learning some geography in the process:
Oh man, I was excited to land in this exotic country - a place we hear so much about but I'd seen only in pictures. Japan just has so much mystique about her. Even if I'd never leave the confines of NRT
, I looked forward eagerly to the new sights and sounds of the place. We landed close to on time and the FAs came on and announced that we would be deplaning by stairs! How often does this happen at NRT
? Very strange, but I didnt mind much at all. How could I mind a few more photo ops! And how tempted was I to bolt from the orderly line to the buses and just take a victory lap of sorts around the jumbo, snapping whatever pics I could! But I refrained.
We calmly boarded the buses while I tried to take it all in. My friend not having any interest in aviation, of course, probably wondering what I was doing trying to take all these random pictures - they're just airplanes, for god's sake! But for a time, I was in my own heaven.
Making our way up into the Terminal 2 (I think - I know airlines have moved around a bit since then, but I don't think we switched terminals), I noticed the transfer boards, to which handwritten signs had been thumbtacked. Incredulous, I took another look. Did Japan, one of the most advanced countries in the world, really have signs for us written with Sharpies at their international gateway? I guess so! We followed the arrow for "Viet Nam" that led us to the transfer desk, where we checked in with JL
for the flight to SGN
. At the desk, my friend made a last ditch effort to find out if our bags had made it. The agent's english wasn't the best, but she made a few calls in Japanese anyway, but unfortunately wasn't able to tell us for sure. A nice gesture though.
With a couple of hours to kill, we made our way to the gate for our last flight. My friend took this chance to grab some zzz's while I explored a little bit, taking random pictures, reminding myself again that, yes, I was in Japan
A 747 headed to KHH
A couple of hours came and went - I helped myself to some sushi and a cold Kirin, which I'd never had before, but it was pretty damn good! Our friend who had arrived from LAX
met us at our departure gate, and we boarded on time, around 1745 Japan time. I quickly noticed that I was one of the very few non-Vietnamese on this flight!
Date: July 25, 2006
STD/ATD: 1815 (ontime)
/ATA: 2030 (ontime)
Duration: 5 hours 45 minutes
Load: Approx 70-80% in Y
And our 763 that would take us to SGN
- sorry for the quality - there was no place I could get a better shot from - and I couldn't get the reg either
Boarding proceeded smoothly, and right away I could sense that Asian approach to service. A FA
was at the gate, greeting each passenger as we approached - something I'd never seen. While passing through the J cabin, I jokingly asked one of the FA
's if we could upgrade. She could sense that we'd come from a long way away so we had a short friendly conversation with her. So far JL
was 2 for 2. We took our seats, and right away I was impressed by how immaculate the cabin looked. This obviously was an older plane than the 777 but I sure couldn't tell. Only complaint was the seat pitch was just a wee tight, but this was an Asian airline so that wasn't too unexpected. A cabin shot:
(that's my left eye in the far left of the frame)
Some snaps while taxiing - A Qantas 767 headed to BNE
An EVA Air A330:
And of course, what would a trip to NRT
be without the red tail:
I quickly tuned in to the nosewheel cam - not that we had a choice!
Took off after a quick taxi, and we are on our way to Vietnam!
Service began shortly after, and the incredibly friendly FA
in our area helped me pick out a Japanese snack and lemon drink which I have no idea what the names of were. But they were freaking delicious and hit the spot
Dinner was served after a little while; I had the teriyaki chicken option, and oh man was it good. Sorry, no pics
I just couldn't believe the difference in service level to this point. After that I played around with MAGIC for a bit, and yes, AVOD! I treated myself to an Asahi with dinner and took in Mission Impossible 2. What a treat, being able to choose your movie and start and stop it at will. And free alcohol in Y! First time I'd had a drink in flight! Are you listening, AA
? Oh and I also noticed that when you reclined the seat, it slid forward slightly so as to marginally increase the recline. Every little bit makes a difference in Y - Japanese ingenuity strikes again!
By about 4 hours into this flight, the fatigue of this long journey began to set in, so I tried to take a quick nap before arrival. Before I knew it, we had begun our descent into SGN
Right after touchdown:
's terminal in the background:
The only american carrier serving Vietnam - kudos to UA
We were fortunate enough to use a jetbridge, as SGN
's older international terminal had become inadequate due to the rapid increase in flights (they have since opened a new one I believe). Right away the airport signage reminded me of BOM
, with the yellow background, black lettering, and to-the-point English. Except SGN
didn't smell like sewage and had clean toilets!
Didn't take any photos right away - figured I didn't want to begin my first trip to a communist country the wrong way! First off was customs, which I passed through without any trouble, however my friends got hassled a bit - the agents asked why they were coming back after so long, what their purpose was, what their families do in the USA, etc. But they made it through as well. Now came the nerve-wracking part- the trek to baggage claim. We went down the stairs, found the right carousel and looked around anxiously and there - we saw them! Our suitcases and the two boxes! Somehow, miraculously (THANKS TO AA
!!!), our bags had made it. I'd never felt more relieved in my life - and they weren't even my bags at stake! We then passed through customs and into the sea of humanity that was the arrivals hall at SGN
. Fortunately my friend had fought his way to the front so we saw him pretty quickly. He took this pic of us while passing through (that's me with the red suitcase):
Here we are with my friend's cousins who had come to greet us:
from the outside:
So that's it - we were finally in SGN
! Of course it was nighttime so I'd have to wait until the next day to really see what the city looked like, but my first impression fit what I'd expected pretty well - that of a developing country. The rapid growth is apparent everywhere with the cranes dominating the skyline. And what a city - so vibrant and full of energy. And of course, a few pics to finish off:
A cyclo tour on our first day:
Memorial for the Buddhist monk who self-immolated in protest of the War:
Typical Saigon street:
War Remnants Museum:
I got a kick out of the communist propaganda everywhere:
A beautiful temple in Chinatown:
And some other souvenirs, of course:
We stayed for a just over two weeks. It was quite a whirlwind tour - we stayed in Saigon for about 2 days, then went up north to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Sapa, then snuck in a 3 day trip to Cambodia as well! I'll try to post TR
's of those too - not so much of the flights, but of the destinations.
In short, Vietnam is just an incredible place to visit. The people are (for the most part) very friendly and welcoming to foreigners. You can just sense the energy everywhere you go. And I haven't even mentioned the numerous attractions - Vietnam is as gorgeous a place as I've ever seen. As far as the flying, AA
was exceedingly mediocre as expected (but they did get our bags there - mad props for that!), and JL
was just awesome - a real treat to have tried them out. I probably won't post a return trip - didn't take too many pictures, and the only difference was that we flew VN
but it was an o/n flight with not much to see anyways.
Well, I'll wrap it up with that. Hope you guys enjoy my first pass at a TR
! Next time I'll be sure to get pictures of the meals
All comments and feedback appreciated!